Organization Trends

The Left’s Judicial Watch Knockoffs Targeting Trump

It’s been said that if you can’t beat ’em, you should join ’em. But the professional Left prefers to copy ’em.

There’s nothing original about the Left’s new batch of “watchdog” groups that are aping the Judicial Watch model and hoping to use lawsuits and Freedom of Information Act requests to stymie the President’s agenda. Their greatest aim is to run President Trump out of office.

This morning, as Kim Strassel documents at the Wall Street Journal, newly formed groups with innocuous names like American OversightDemocracy Forward, and Restore Public Trust are brimming with senior staffers from the Obama administration and Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.

The list of names reads like a meeting of Democratic Party luminaries. Democracy Forward’s board, for example, includes Perkins Coie attorney Marc Elias—who served as Hillary’s general counsel in 2016 and used the firm’s funds to pay for the infamous Christopher Steele dossier—and Clinton crony John Podesta, who chaired Hillary’s presidential campaign and founded the think tank Center for American Progress.

Each of these groups is deeply enmeshed in professional Democratic politics. Take American Oversight, which was created last year and cut its teeth during the Left’s opposition to the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court this fall.

The group should call itself an attack dog rather than an “ethics watchdog.” Its leader was an attorney in the Obama State Department, senior staffer to Sen. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and a researcher for the agitation group People for the American Way. Even the liberal Mother Jones called American Oversight “a liberal advocacy group.”

Kyle Herrig, a member of the group’s board of directors, connects American Oversight to the New Venture Fund—a mysterious 501(c)(3) mega-funder that raked in a stunning $358 million in 2016, according to its most recent tax filings. As we document at, the New Venture Fund maintains a host of websites designed to look like independent activist organizations, including Restore Public Trust and the anti-Kavanaugh group Fix the Court.

But it’s the New Venture Fund’s penchant for funneling millions of dollars to left-wing advocacy groups like David Brock’s Media Matters for America and the Center for American Progress that has led many to call it a “dark money outfit,” that is, a funding conduit that shields donors from scrutiny.

“Dark money” is usually a term you hear from leftists like the New Yorker’s Jane Meyer, who accuse conservatives and libertarians like the Koch brothers of “weaponize[ing] philanthropy” and corrupting elections.

But if liberals really want to cut down on so-called “dark money” in politics, they could start with their own mega-funders.

As I wrote in October in the Wall Street Journal, many left-wing interests raved about the documentary “Dark Money” that recently aired on PBS, calling the film a “political thriller.” Yet the film’s credits reveal one problem: its funding came not from neutral believers in transparency but from left-wing political players like the Ford Foundation, the third-largest private philanthropy in the country with a staggering $12.4 billion in assets at the end of 2015 (the most recent year available).

Liberals often moan about the supposed horrors of conservative “dark money” in politics. But the Left quietly ignores politically active liberal nonprofits, which typically receive between three and four times as much money as their conservative counterparts.

And a good bit of those dollars going to left-of-center groups went there via “dark” funding streams. As Kimberly Strassel was kind enough to quote me this morning, “the Left has no bigger bogeyman than ‘dark money,’ but it plays the dark-money instrument like Isaac Stern.”

Scott Walter

Scott Walter is president of Capital Research Center. He served in the George W. Bush Administration as Special Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy and was vice president at…
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